Tag Archives: Conferences

Luther@500: The Pastoral Luther

Almost ten years ago, internationally regarded Luther scholar Timothy Wengert said,

As Luther fans the world over are already gearing up for the celebration in 2017 of the 500th anniversary of their posting [i.e. the Ninety-Five Theses] on 31 October 1517, too often the celebrations will focus on Luther’s break with Rome or his Reformation breakthrough rather than on Luther’s own stated reason for the dispute: pastoral care for his flock in Wittenberg (“Introducing the Pastoral Luther” in Wengert (ed.), The Pastoral Luther: Essays on Martin Luther’s Practical Theology (Lutheran Quarterly Books; Eerdmans, p. 5).

Vose Seminary will commemorate this anniversary with a mini-Conference on The Pastoral Luther. Conducted on October 30, four papers will be presented as follows:

  1. Dr Peter Elliott (Perth Bible College): The Pastoral Roots of Luther’s Reformation
  2. Dr Michael O’Neil (Vose Seminary): Freeing Salvation: Luther’s Pastoral Theology
  3. Ps Matthew Bishop (Bethlehem Lutheran Church Morley): Of Good Comfort: Luther’s Pastoral Letters to the Depressed
  4. Dr Brian Harris (Vose Seminary): Luther as Leader

I am very much looking forward to this event. If you are in Perth, perhaps you can make it along.

For details and registration, go to:

Karl Barth Study Group 2017

The Karl Barth Study Group met at ANZATS for the third time, this year in Adelaide. We chose a theme for the papers this year: “Reading Romans with Barth,” in view of the upcoming centenary of the first edition of Barth’s commentary on Paul’s epistle. Although four papers were scheduled, one presenter had to withdraw due to family medical concerns. However, the remaining papers were each interesting and well received, and good interaction and discussion followed the presentations.

The first paper given by Chris Swann, a doctoral candidate at St Mark’s Theological Centre, addressed the topic “Discipleship beyond Taste & Taboo: Barth on Food & Freedom in Romans 14:1 – 15:7.” When I was doing my own work on these chapters in the second edition of Barth’s commentary I was disappointed, feeling that Barth had missed an opportunity to develop a strong theological description of relations in the Christian community. But Chris did a better job than I had with respect to Barth’s position. He recognises that Barth follows Paul by calling for the strong to sacrifice their liberty, and as such, insists that the divine krisis falls on weak and strong alike. Barth rejects all liberty as well as rigorism: all human positions are impure before God. But Chris showed that Barth’s position does indeed open into a thick description of a truly generous community ethic as we recognise and honour the One in the other.

Sean Winter, New Testament scholar at Pilgrim College in Melbourne, examined Romans 11:33-36, which is the climax of the first long section of Paul’s letter. Sean noted the utter forcefulness of Barth’s rhetoric in this section—a forcefulness attenuated in Hoskyns’ translation.

Direct knowledge of God? Nein! Cooperation with his dec isions? Nein! The possibility of holding him, or binding him, or obligating him, or ente3ring into a reciprocal relationship with him? Nein! No Federal theology. He is God, he himself, he alone. That is the ‘Ja’ of Romans.

God is known only in his inscrutability, clearly seen in his invisibility. God does not give himself over to us in his revelation but remains the utterly sovereign and hidden God.

My own paper examined Barth’s commentary in the first edition on Romans 5:12-14 where Barth addresses the question of Adam. In particular, I examined the curious translation of typos as Gegenbild, or ‘antitype.’ Is Barth playing fast and loose with the biblical text? Can we see in this translation an early indication of the theology which would come to expression later as a result of his doctrine of election in which Christ precedes Adam? I argued that the answer on both counts was No, and that in fact, Barth’s exegetical approach treated the biblical text very seriously and carefully, although also in accordance with his own hermeneutical stance which I picture as Barth standing alongside Paul looking at that to which Paul is pointing, seeking to see—in his own twentieth century context—what Paul could see, and to hear—in his own twentieth century context—what Paul could hear.

This year’s meeting of the Study Group fulfilled the purpose for which I started it three years ago. It was an encouraging and stimulating experience to meet with other scholars and explore something of Barth’s legacy. Perhaps we may even be able to do it again, next year!

ANZATS 2017 – Lynn Cohick

The second international guest at this year’s ANZATS Conference was Lynn Cohick from Wheaton College in Illinois. Like Stephen Barton, Cohick is a New Testament scholar, but who is also very conversant with the life and circumstances of early Christianity in the first centuries of its history.

Cohick’s first lecture was entitled “What’s Love Got to Do with It? Marriage in First-Century Families.” Her second lecture addressed “Inheritance and Worthiness: What Children in First Century Families Reveal about the Message of the Gospel.” Both lectures used early Christian and ancient secular sources in addition to the New Testament to provide a vivid account of the life and times of families and children in the world of the New Testament, in both its Jewish and Hellenistic contexts.

Marriage in the first-century Greco-Roman world was highly regulated in terms of social class and custom. Polygamy was forbidden, concubinage allowed, and prostitution and other forms of sexual allowance for men was accepted as normal. Slaves, both male and female, could be used routinely for sex, though only a woman could be a concubine. A concubine had a status somewhere between a wife and a slave. Most marriages were contracted with the hope of love, or at least harmony, and some evidently attained it. But remarriage was common on account of both the death of one’s spouse, or divorce.

The forms of marriage, and power within marriage, were very patriarchal. A good wife was one who maintained a good reputation, bringing honour to the family name, undertook the duties of motherhood, was submissive to her husband’s authority, and modest, chaste and industrious in character. Cohick argues that Paul’s instructions to married couples in the New Testament were audacious and counter-cultural, introducing a strong note of mutuality and equality into the marital relations, challenging the male privilege of the Roman world, including the “natural social right” of the husband to use prostitutes. His vision of love demands self-sacrifice and honour of the other, making demands, especially on the husband.

With respect to children, Cohick acknowledges the difficulty of obtaining and interpreting sound data on the status and life-experiences of children in the ancient world. In fact, the concept of child does not really have an ancient analogue. Childhood was not sentimentalised in the ancient world where child mortality could run as high as 35% in the first year of life, and up to 50% by age ten. Life was harsh and work was rough, existence was brutal, even—especially?—for children.

Perhaps the enduring image Cohick’s lecture left for me was of the instrumentalising of children. Children were for work, for family support and honour, for sex. Children were like unformed clay, and needed education and a strong hand to cause them to grow and mature.  Cohick spent a good deal of time distinguishing between free and slave children, and between Roman and non-Roman children, and how these distinctions played out in society.

The image of children in the New Testament challenges the instrumentalising of children, and the central role of the Roman family in society. They were to be nurtured and educated in the “new family” which was the church, with a primary allegiance not to their earthly paterfamilias, but to God. Cohick used the story of Perpetua and Felicitas to great effect here. So, too, the adults in the church were to serve as surrogate mothers and fathers for all the children in the church, whether slave or free, Roman or otherwise.

Cohick’s lectures provided a “thick” descriptive account of family in the first century world. It was like seeing a full-colour picture after having only seen black-and-white and blurred images previously. It was easy to visualise the impact of the gospel message of hope, in a world of such high mortality. It was challenging to see the commitment the early Christians had to a devotional and moral existence that challenged the life and culture around them in fundamental ways.

ANZATS 2017 – Stephen Barton

This week I have been at the 2017 ANZATS Conference in Adelaide. The theme this year has been “Kinship & Family in Contemporary Australia and New Zealand.” The two international guests have given excellent plenary addresses, and the elective sessions that I have attended have been good. Of course, one of the best things about Conferences is catching up with peers from around the country—and from New Zealand, and meeting new friends.

Stephen Barton from Durham, UK has given two addresses on the topic of marriage, the first providing a biblical perspective and the second, an historical perspective from the Christian tradition. Both accounts were descriptive rather than prescriptive, and portrayed the complexity and plurality of images and approaches in both the Bible and the Christian tradition. Several things stood out to me:

  1. Barton rejects a “sola scriptura” approach to the question of a Christian ethic of marriage and family. Several statements in the lecture make his position clear: “‘The Bible says’ is no way to establish a ‘biblical’ understanding of ‘family.’” He prefers a more “Anglican” approach—Lex orandi, lex credendi (which translates roughly as “the law of praying [is] the law of believing” and means that prayer and worship lead to belief and theology)—“the Bible released from rationalism opens a depth of biblical resources for prayer and moral reflection.” And again, “sola scriptura is too narrow a foundation for a full doctrine or ethic of marriage and family.” Barton views marriage as a complex, many-layered phenomenon with natural, spiritual, legal, social, cultural, and sacramental aspects. He eschews reductionist approaches which would reduce marriage to just one thing. Thus while scripture is an indispensable source for a Christian ethic of marriage and family, other sources of moral reflection must also be consulted, including an understanding of natural law, the history of development of concepts and practices of marriage, cultural forms and traditions, philosophical reflection on the “goods” of marriage, etc.
  2. Barton views marriage primarily through an eschatological lens: a wise reading of Scripture adopts a prophetic-eschatological perspective that disrupts cultural values in the light of the coming kingdom. I found this intriguing, especially since biblically, it appears grounded more in creational frame of reference. Nevertheless, his treatment of the biblical vision was very insightful and challenging.
  3. His recounting of the development of marriage in historical and ecclesial perspective was incredibly interesting and illuminating. The lecture was peppered with such gems as “the [medieval] Roman Catholics understood marriage a natural origin, a legal form, and a spiritual significance.” Or, the Roman Catholic understanding of marriage as a sacrament was transformed in Protestantism: Luther viewed it as a “social estate,” Calvin in terms of a “covenant,” and Anglicanism as a “little commonwealth.” Barton’s discussion of each of these was rich in detail and insight.

In the end, says Barton, marriage is indeed a complex institution, essential for personal flourishing and familial and societal well-being. He understands it especially in terms of a practise of life-long openness to the other, in a context of deepening hospitality and self-giving.

Adam as Antitype?

roemerbrief2-787x1024Last week I prepared my proposal for the Karl Barth Study Group at this year’s ANZATS conference in Adelaide:

Adam as Anti-Type?
Reading Romans 5:12-21 with Barth

In Romans 5:14 Paul speaks of Adam ὅς ἐστιν τύπος τοῦ μέλλοντος—“who is a type of the coming one.” In the first edition of his commentary on Romans, Barth translates τύπος with Gegenbild—“antitype.” This curious translation raises a question concerning the validity of Barth’s interpretation of Paul’s letter, at least in this passage. Nevertheless, John Webster has claimed that “whatever abiding interest and worth [Barth’s commentary on Romans] may have stands or falls by its success in fulfilling” Barth’s stated intention to interpret Scripture (see Webster in Greenman & Larson (eds), Reading Romans Through the Centuries, 205-206).

This paper tests Webster’s claim by examining Barth’s exposition of Romans 5:12-21 in the first edition of his commentary, detailing the interpretive moves Barth makes and assessing their validity in light of his theory of interpretation, and as an exposition of Paul’s text. In particular, Barth’s treatment of the Adam-Christ parallel is explored, as an example of his theological interpretation. The focus of this paper is on the first edition of Der Römerbrief, though with an eye to Barth’s later treatments of the same passage in the second edition of the commentary (1922), A Shorter Commentary on Romans (1940-41), and Christ and Adam (1952).

Up-Coming Events in Perth

ac-graylingA few different kinds of events are coming up in Perth in March.

First, the British humanist-philosopher A. C. Grayling is visiting Perth (Friday March 31) to promote his new book The Age of Genius: The Seventeenth Century and the Birth of the Modern Mind. Grayling is not usually included amongst the new atheists, as far as I am aware. He does, however, write books such as The God Argument: The Case Against God and For Humanism and The Good Book: A Secular Bible. I have not read the book but it looks like an appreciative treatment of the Enlightenment in western culture in the seventeenth century.

Second, the Murdoch International Theologian Programme is scheduled for March this year with Professor David Ford from Cambridge presenting a series of lectures around the theme of Religion, Violence, and a Vision for Twenty-first Century Civilization: How might our world and the societies within it be healthily plural? Click on the attached brochures below for details.

MUIT 2017_01sml

MUIT 2017_02sml




Third, Ravi Zacharias Ministries are presenting an apologetics evening for youth and young adults entitled Is God Relevant? on Friday March 17.


Advance Notice: Conferences 2017

KB Conference 2017

The date, theme and a list of invited speakers for next year’s Karl Barth Conference has been announced. The Conference will acknowledge the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses, with a wonderful theme linking Luther’s Reformation to a critical period in Barth’s own development and the movement which arose around his work. I would love to go there but may need to wait for the book. Keep an eye on the Barth Center website for further details in coming months.

And the theme, date and invited speakers for next year’s ANZATS Conference in Adelaide has also been announced. It looks to be a very different conference to this year’s Conference in Melbourne, but hopefully just as stimulating in its own way. Further information will be available in due course from the ANZATS website.ANZATS 2017

Scripture on Sunday – The Blood of His Cross

agnusdeiThis morning in worship we are singing Blessed Assurance which includes the phrase “washed in his blood.” George Hunsinger has remarked that modern dogmatic theology, where it still speaks of the saving death of Christ, usually does so without reference to the blood of Christ (Hunsinger, “Meditation on the Blood of Christ,” in Disruptive Grace, 361).

I was recently challenged on this theme by someone who asked, when speaking of the atoning work of Christ, “must there be blood?” The person was concerned that reference to Jesus’ blood signified a violent atonement and thereby legitimised violence in the world. Given the violence this person has seen in their life and work, their concern is not surprising. Despite their unease, however, I was concerned that this was a bridge too far for those who, like myself, see Scripture as something more than writings reflecting human religious experiences and ideals. Trevor Hart has commented,

Whenever the story which the church tells appears to dovetail neatly and without wrinkles with the stories which human beings like to tell about themselves and their destiny, it is likely that the church is cutting the cloth of its gospel to fit the pattern laid down by the Zeitgeist rather than the heilige Geist” (Hart, in Gunton (Ed), The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine, 191).

I do not think Hart’s critique can be fairly levelled at this person. In some respects the gospel this person is telling is not at all consonant with stories human beings like to tell about themselves. We like stories of heroism, of sacrifice, of power that triumphs, and yes, of victory won, even at the cost of violence. Violence is deeply embedded in human relationships and structures; it seems we are all capable of violence in one way or another, and so this person’s gospel wants to disrupt, challenge and overturn this pattern of human sinfulness.

And yet; I am still concerned that the person is cutting the cloth of their gospel in a way which is not sufficiently attentive to the Holy Spirit’s witness in Scripture. The following verses show that the blood of Christ was a prominent theme in the biblical writers’ understanding of the saving work of Christ on the cross. Indeed, almost every New Testament writer shares this understanding, indicating its pervasive influence in the thought-world and faith of New Testament Christianity.

Mark 14: 23-25
Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’

Acts 20:28 
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.

Romans 3:25 
Whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed

Romans 5:9  
Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.

Ephesians 1:7 
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

Ephesians 2:13
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Colossians 1:20 
And through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Hebrews 9:12-14
He entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

Hebrews 9:21-22
And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Hebrews 13:12
Therefore Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood.

1 Peter 1:18-19  
You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.

1 John 1:7 
But if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

Revelation 1:5 
And from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood.

In all these texts and others like them, we see that the blood of Christ functions as a sin-offering on behalf of humanity, and as the institution of a new covenant between God and humanity in Jesus Christ. The answer to my friend’s question must be, on the basis of the New Testament witness, an unqualified “Yes!” The blood of his cross is the basis of our forgiveness and reconciliation with God, and of the new covenant of which we have become heirs. More must be said, of course. Does Jesus’ bloody death implicate God in violence? I will endeavour to address this important question next week.

Karl Barth Study Group (2016)

ANZATS 2016 delegates-JohnMcDowell

The Karl Barth Study Group met for the second time at this year’s ANZATS Conference in Melbourne on July 4, 2016. This year six papers were presented at the Study Group meeting, an increase of three over last year’s meeting in Sydney. We also enjoyed more participants in the sessions this year, with lively discussion and Q&A after each session. It was exactly what I hoped for when I floated the idea a couple of years ago.

The six presenters represented a variety of institutions in five cities and came from three countries. The papers were each distinctive and worthwhile in their own right. Some dealt with the official Conference theme (Atonement) while others ranged further afield. Together they displayed the broad interest Barth continues to excite in the Asia-Pacific region. In brief the presenters and themes addressed were as follows:

  1. Michael O’Neil – Vose Seminary, Perth
    Title: “Changed into Another Man: The Meaning of ‘Baptism with the Holy Spirit’ in Karl Barth, in Conversation with the Pentecostal Doctrine.”
    My paper was a briefer version of the paper I gave at the 2016 Barth Conference in June at Princeton. I argue that Barth and Pentecostals have plenty to talk about, and that both might learn something from each other. Barth describes the life of one baptised with the Holy Spirit: “The power of the life to come is the power of his life in the world.”
  2. Edmund Fong – PhD Candidate (Otago University), Singapore
    Title: “‘For Us and in Our Place’: The Doctrine of Atonement in Engagement with the ‘Reception of Doctrine’ Approach.”
    Edmund explored the hermeneutical and trinitarian presuppositions which govern understanding of the atonement, before arguing that for Barth, the Deus pro nobis is the very Sache, the subject matter, of the doctrine of the atonement, which he unpacks in a fourfold substitutionary pattern.
  3. Mark Lindsay – Trinity College Theological School, University of Divinity, Melbourne
    Title: “Divine Forgetfulness and the Re-Creation of Memories: The Significance of the Sepultus Est.”
    Mark’s fascinating lecture explored Barth’s meditation on the burial of Jesus in his Utrecht lectures of 1935, published as Credo. In his burial, Jesus surrenders to the human fate of becoming ‘pure past,’ thus no longer having either present or future. He becomes as though he were not, no more than a memory. Yet God opened a new future, and through him, ‘new futures.’
  4. Geoff Thompson – Pilgrim Theological College, University of Divinity
    Title: “Reading Barth Reading Job.”
    Geoff explored Barth’s reading and interpretation of Job in Church Dogmatics IV/3. Barth finds a certain correspondence between Jesus and Job such that Job functions as a witness of the True Witness who is Jesus Christ. For Barth, Job is not about theodicy or a meditation on suffering. He is rather a witness who speaks the truth and unmasks falsehood.
  5. Christopher Holmes – University of Otago, New Zealand
    Title: “The Atonement and the Holy Spirit”
    Christopher’s careful lecture detailed the work of the Holy Spirit in the immanent trinity and the outworking of this role in the event of the atonement. The Holy Spirit can never be untethered from Jesus Christ either at the cross or unto all eternity, the Spirit and the Son are one, even in their distinction.
  6. Chris Swann – PhD Candidate, Charles Sturt University, Canberra
    Title: “Discipleship and the ‘Indirect Directness’ of Barth’s Account of Sanctification in Church Dogmatics IV/2, §66”
    Chris responded to criticisms that Barth’s ethics are too abstract and indirect, arguing that Barth’s ‘indirectness’ is intentional, and intends to educate our moral imagination or tune our ears to hear and respond to the direct command of Jesus Christ.

Preparing for Princeton

KBC_2016_1024x375_(1)Early in the year I submitted an abstract for the 2016 Karl Barth Conference at Princeton Theological Seminary. After the call period finished I expected that my paper was not chosen, but then a spot opened up for me and I am excited to be going. Excited and a little over-awed. I am so busy this semester, I don’t have a lot of prep time. The theme of the Conference is Karl Barth’s Pneumatology and the Global Pentecostal Movement. My abstract for the conference is:

‘Changed into Another Man’:
The Meaning of “Baptism with the Holy Spirit” in Karl Barth,
in Conversation with the Pentecostal Doctrine

Late in his career, Karl Barth prepared a little section for the Church Dogmatics entitled “Baptism with the Holy Spirit” (IV/4:3-40). This paper presents a careful exposition of Barth’s doctrine of ‘Baptism with the Holy Spirit,’ showing that Barth conceived of the Spirit as the conjunction between the objective act of God’s reconciliation achieved in Christ in history, and the event of Christian faith. In the Holy Spirit, the mediating link between these two aspects of the one event, Christian faith is grounded not in an act of humanity but in that of God. That is, the Christian’s apprehension of faith in Christ is a genuine participation in, and incorporation into the life of the triune God, rather than simply a limited, and indeed, earth-bound, existential or ecclesiological event.

While the exposition makes clear that Barth’s doctrine is materially different to that of classic Pentecostalism, certain affinities may be noted between the two positions. In particular one notes the experiential language Barth uses to describe the encounter which transpires between God and the human agent. Second, is Barth’s insistence that the Baptism with the Holy Spirit involves the ontic renewal of the Christian such they become in truth ‘a different [person]’ (18). These features of Barth’s exposition suggest that his doctrine, although distinct in form and content from that of Pentecostalism, may in fact address the deeper longing of that movement for a dynamic, experiential ‘life in the Spirit.’